I make flowers called Frankenflora. They’re hybrid flowers made from different parts of dried or pressed plants, and their assembly is mainly inspired by literature, ikebana, and botany.
My interest in plants oddly started with a voluntary role at a hospital where I assisted a resident in arranging the lobby’s flowers, then I briefly turned to my university’s herbarium right before graduating and was hooked by the time I moved to Vancouver.
I’d quickly joined the editorial field at various magazines. But when I wasn’t editing, I was getting my hands on flowers anywhere I could and building a collection that laid pressed and stored in the pages of multiple books. Later that year, I met an artist who encouraged me to explore an idea I had: to collage flowers from flowers, and somehow, what began as a birthday card for a friend turned into an art practice. This year I installed my first solo exhibition in the herbarium section of the Beaty Biodiversity Museum (now online!).
The last few years I’ve followed this passion through oscillating emotions and kept myself moving forward. But lately, during this isolation period when several artists are using this window of time to create new works, I have fallen in the opposite category. I’ve felt like my focus and motivation have been misplaced, and it’s been a struggle to create anything.
At its simplest, my experience with the pandemic has been this: I continue to work from home as an editor alongside my out-of-work partner in a small apartment; my mother recently started working as a nurse; I’ve had some personal health concerns; and I’ve had some not-so-pretty feelings internally directed at the people that don’t seem to be taking the pandemic seriously, locally and online. It may be that these challenges I’m facing have an effect on my art.
But I’d like to share a list of the little things I’ve been doing to get back to creating.
1. Writing Flower Haikus
Initially, this was more for me to get back into writing but it became a small way for me to also learn about plants. The first few I wrote were about some of my favourite flowers and my personal experiences with them.
Candied clump for bees
Going their own way, passes
From his hand to mine.
Then I posted an Instagram story asking for suggestions and my friends shared plants I never knew of before. With nothing personal to say about them, it brought some joy to learn about something new.
Datura metel (suggested by artist Laara Cerman)
If I am hell bound,
I’ll pray that the hot trumpets
Play me back to sleep.
I haven’t written many and these are the shortest forms of writing I could’ve gone for, but it’s enough sometimes when I’m on the couch staring at the space before me.
2. Experimenting with Displays
My Frankenflora are unfortunately still subject to the bleaching effects of light and I’m always looking out for ways to minimize that besides keeping them in a dry, shaded place. Last year some Frankenflora were a joint exhibition at the Beaty and one flower in particular, F. eleutheregina (above), went from various shades of green to a colour reminiscent of an unripe lemon. Still pretty to my eyes but I was a little disheartened that, even with their measure of covering the display case each night, the light had such an effect over time. (As a side note, this incident opened a door to the creation of a ghostly white flower from chemically bleached plants since I figured, if it was going to bleach, why not go all the way?)
I found a company that manufactures UV-filtering acrylic and glass and obtained a free sample to see if it could help alleviate the bleaching problem. All I did was tape different coloured plant material to a sheet of paper, put them behind the UV-filtering acrylic and control (also supplied with the sample), and stuck them in the window. Time did the rest. So far, it doesn’t hold up to direct sunlight, but I’ve yet to see how it fares in milder lighting conditions.
3. Project Collaboration
In recent months, I’ve started collaborating with poet Winston Le on a project involving his poetry and my flowers. It takes time, patience, and communication to work on collaborations, and I’ve felt guilty about shying away from my creative part in the process. But it’s been good for me to have a reminder every few weeks to resume my role. At the very least it got me to look at my existing plant material again.
To create a Frankenflora based on one of Winston’s poems regarding his Vietnamese-Chinese heritage, I needed parts of a lotus flower, which apparently isn’t available in Vancouver, so I had to rethink how I’d obtain and use parts of that plant. Thinking of using the seeds and root instead of the flowers, I went to T&T and H-Mart to find them. However, the only lotus root I could find came fresh, so I got a dehydrator and 14 hours later I had dried slices of lotus root sitting on my desk. They’re still sitting there but I look and stare and occasionally pick up and feel.
4. Playing Video Games
It sounds weird to get into plants by playing video games, but this one really helped: Red Dead Redemption 2. Probably one of the biggest games of late and it has a great story to follow once you get past the frustrating controls, but the main thing I wanted to accomplish in that game was to find all 13 species of exotic orchids. The game is visually beautiful and takes you up mountains, through forests, and across swamps, and with some help from the internet I managed to find my orchids. (To add a measure of glee, I particularly loved seeing the character gently pluck each orchid and stash it in his satchel — an action my homebody longs to take.) After that, it didn’t matter much to me if I finished the game or not, I’d gotten my satisfaction.
5. Stop and Smell the Flowers
I’d say most of my walks are to get supplies from the store two blocks away. It’s that or I walk from home to downtown’s drug store (which takes about an hour) because I don’t want to take the bus. There’s no in between. I appreciate the exercise the long walks give me, but I prefer my shorter walks because they take me past my neighbors’ lilacs.
I can’t explain the power floral fragrances have on me, but it helps to take a deep breath by taking a big sniff.
Of course, these are quite plant-specific things I’m doing because it relates to my art, but I think the general ideas can be applied to other interests. For example, you could write haikus about cats, play a cat-themed game, or go out for a walk and stop to pet a cat. (I’m not thinking about getting a cat.) For now, I haven’t returned to making flowers but I grow more hopeful each day and that’s all I can ask for.
Good luck with yours. Stay safe out there.
Featured image: “F. invisichra” by Katrina Vera Wong.